Decision Making Through Constant Change

This is a guest post written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization and Professional Development

Remember the good old days, pre-COVID, when we talked about the stress of rapid change? Sure, we talked about VUCA, but only now do we truly understand what Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous means for ourselves and our organization. The last six months have been a never-ending test of our stamina, courage, and ability to pivot quickly, and many of our tried and true methods of approaching work and leadership have been challenged. As stated in the McKinsey & Company article Decision Making in Uncertain Times, “The typical approach of many companies, big and small, will be far too slow to keep up in such turbulence. Postponing decisions to wait for more information might make sense during business as usual. But when the environment is uncertain—and defined by urgency and imperfect information—waiting to decide is a decision in itself” (Alexander et al., 2020).

To move forward in this environment, here are some principles to keep in mind:

  1. Take a breath. To make good decisions, you need oxygen going to your brain. You might feel a sense of urgency, or even panic, but it is worthwhile to take some deep breaths and reflect on the situation at hand before brainstorming solutions or making decisions (Alexander et al., 2020).
  2. Collect information. Do you have any data? Past precedence? Do a quick literature scan on best practices to get ideas. Consider impacts to stakeholders and get their perspectives. You likely won’t have a great deal of time to explore every possible option but do your homework to the best of your ability, given the urgency of the need.
  3. Involve others. If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that none of us can do it all alone. Talk to your peers to see who else is facing this challenge so that you can share ideas or partner on a solution. Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Tap the wisdom of your team or other groups on campus or even other institutions (Alexander et al., 2020).
  4. Mitigate bias. The NeuroLeadership Institute offers some key types of bias to be aware of as you make decisions (2019):
    • Similarity bias. Simply put, we prefer what is like us over what is different. An example is hiring people who they perceive to be like them. Make an active effort to get input and feedback from those who are different, or you’ll likely be short-sighted.
    • Expedience bias. We choose the quickest alternative. Make sure you are not going just on one data point without considering options.
    • Experience bias. We see our perception as truth. How would a new employee view this? Someone from another generation? Seek feedback and don’t assume your view is the only one.
    • Distance bias. We prefer what’s closer over what’s farther away and, as a result, can miss some unique solutions.
    • Safety bias. We protect against loss more than we seek to gain. When it comes to COVID-19, we need to take every safety precaution. In non-health related issues, taking calculated risks helps to propel us forward and innovate.
  5. Consider alternatives. Look not only at how your decisions will impact the current situation, but where they might fit in after the pandemic. Weigh out potential risks and benefits for both the short and long game. Weigh options through the lens of broader organizational priorities and realities, considering values, impact on students, budget, staff engagement and more.
  6. Make the decision. After expediently doing all the above, you must decide and then make that decision clear to others. Remember, you will make the best decision you can with the time and information you have at that moment.
  7. Execute and evaluate. Some leaders forget that the real work begins after the decision is made. Be clear on who will execute the decision, timelines and parameters. Check in to see how things are going, if informing variables have changed or if support is needed. Empower your leaders as much as possible to make the day to day decisions to get the job done.
  8. Reflect. After implementation, take a few moments to consider how the decision went and what you and others can learn.

I’m sure we’ll all have much to reflect on once we move past this incredible time in history. Until then, the challenges keep coming, and we’ll continue to take them on. Don’t forget to lean on each other. You are not alone in feeling the weight of the work and decisions that face you. Talking with trusted colleagues can lighten the load. As this Inside Higher Ed article says, “Unlike many external critics, they understand that one ‘good’ often conflicts with another, and that choices are inevitably made among flawed options in imperfect conditions with limited information. You do the best you can, and you live with it” (Dean Dad, 2012). Good luck and good health to you all.

Sources:

Alexander, A., De Smet, A., and Weiss, L., (March 24, 2020) Decision Making in Uncertain Times, Retrieved October 13, 2020 from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/decision-making-in-uncertain-times

Benjamin, D. Komlos, D., (July 20, 2020) The Pandemic is Teachings to Embrace Uncertainty and Build it into Decision Making. Retrieved October 13, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminkomlos/2020/07/20/the-pandemic-is-teaching-us-to-embrace-uncertainty-and-build-it-into-decision-making/#710a1d1a6faa

NeuroLeadership Institute (April 9, 2019) The 5 Biggest Biases that Affect Decision Making. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from  https://neuroleadership.com/your-brain-at-work/seeds-model-biases-affect-decision-making/

Cole, B. M. (April 14, 2020) Seven Simple Steps for Good Decision Making During a Crisis. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/biancamillercole/2020/04/14/follow-these-7-steps-for-good-decision-making-in-a-crisis/#5dd83f933fe4

Dean Dad (March, 2012) Ask the Administrator: If I Become a Dean, Will my Faculty Colleagues Shun Me? Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/ask-administrator-if-i-become-dean-will-my-faculty

Compassionate Leadership: Awareness of Mental Health Needs as the Pandemic Continues

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development

The last few months have been a long haul, and from all indications, it will still be quite some time before the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. Information changes daily, forcing us to shift gears quickly and adjust plans in virtually every role we have — be it employee, leader, parent, caretaker, or even citizen given our current sociopolitical landscape. As time goes on, the continually shifting ground can be disorienting, and emotional overload can impact our mental health. It is not uncommon for people to feel motivated and focused one day (or week) and then burned out and struggling the next. For those experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions pre-COVID — perhaps silently — the impact may be even more severe. 

In addition, “employees who have had to adjust to new vulnerabilities, uncertainties, and business practices from COVID-19 are now being re-traumatized through repeated exposure to images and threats of violence. For some, this moment is a wakeup call to make important and necessary changes, but for many, there is a cumulative deep emotional overload and exhaustion. Coping with these two huge social forces in the context of social distancing and greater financial uncertainty leaves people feeling frightened.” (Goodson, 2020) What can leaders do to support their team members and colleagues, while attempting to navigate this terrain? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Commit to your own self-care and encourage your staff to do the same. If you don’t take the time and effort for self-care, you will not be able to do the other items on this list effectively. Here’s the rundown:  
    • Get enough sleep and keep a consistent schedule as much as possible.  
    • Take breaks. Get outside, go for a walk, meditate, get away from your screens even if it’s just for a few minutes. 
    • Move. Do something that you enjoy to get some exercise. Walking, yoga, running, strength training, golfing, dancing, whatever you like.  
    • Connect. We all have an innate need to connect with others. Suggestions: call that friend who makes you laugh, reach out to brighten someone’s day, do something fun with your family (instead of just the to-do list), or meet with a colleague for a socially distanced, outdoor coffee hour. 
    • Take time off as you are able. Even a long weekend or a few hours here and there to get away from work — and social media — can be rejuvenating. 
  2. Stay aware. If you notice that a staff member or colleague shifts from being engaged and productive to detached or agitated, check-in. Not to judge or diagnose, but to see how they are and listen. 
  3. Show compassion and reassurance. Normalize these ups and downs and the impact on everyone’s psyche — though, it may look somewhat different from person to person. Demonstrate empathy and allow for flexibility when possible as people try to meet the demands of caretaking, financial struggles, and more. 
  4. Provide structure and continuity where possible. Talk about what isn’t changing, have project plans so that expectations are clear, keep people briefed on the latest information as you become aware, focus on vision, values, and mission as driving factors regardless of other changes. 
  5. Stay realistic while maintaining some base expectations. Productivity may not be as high or consistent as it was pre-pandemic. There may be points of higher output and other times when family or emotional demands take a toll. Communication is key. What are the priority items that must be completed on time? Where can there be flexibility? How do you prefer people communicate with you if a deadline is at risk?  
  6. Support skill-building. Most employees (and likely you, too) have needed to do their jobs in new ways to meet current needs. Some have put off this learning, hoping that they could ride it out until this situation passes. That is no longer an option. Covering for not having the skills to do the work needed adds to the stress. Do skills inventories with staff to see what areas to strengthen to do the work at hand in this environment. Support people in finding the skill-building opportunities they need and follow up to make sure they’ve followed through and found it helpful. Call MSU HR, Organization & Professional Development and/or Academic Advancement Network for guidance or read some of these questions to help assess learning needs. 
  7. Communicate openly, honoring what is difficult while staying optimistic about the future. Share information you can promptly. If you are having a particularly bad day, it is probably best not to share all your worst thoughts with your staff. Talk to a trusted friend to get perspective first. As new announcements come out, check in with staff to see what their reactions are, what questions they have and discuss how the news could impact them. 
  8. Provide referrals. If you notice that people are struggling, be sure to remind them of the resources available.  

“Leaders set the tone and culture of organizations. They should remind people to take care of themselves and share what they are doing to stay healthy and well. This may mean leaders must get outside their comfort zone. Employees are likely to be reassured by the willingness of leaders to show vulnerability and share how they are coping. This conveys to employees that they are not alone in what they are feeling and experiencing. Ideally, it communicates we are in this together and you are supported. Also, it demonstrates the organization’s commitment to transparency and continuous communication.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2020)  

So grant yourself and others some grace as we move through this imperfectly. Take time to relax and connect with others to further resiliency, set realistic goals and give yourself credit for all that you’ve managed thus far in a challenging situation. Take care, Spartans. Together we can do this. 

Sources:

Scott Goodson (2020, June 25). How to Lead Through Employee Mental Health Issues During Covid. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.inc.com/scott-goodson-chip-walker/how-to-lead-through-employee-mental-health-issues-during-covid.html

Employee Mental Health & Well-being During & Beyond COVID-19. (n.d.). Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/Employer-Resources/Employee-Mental-Health-Well-being-During-Beyon

Job Feature: Administrative Contact Tracers

In response to COVID-19 and to continue ensuring the safety and health of the campus community, MSU recently posted three openings for Administrative Contact Tracers. Please refer to job numbers: 665171, 664960, and 665172.

The Contact Tracers are responsible for reaching out to all patients diagnosed with COVID-19 to learn more about patients’ medical histories, the people who they have had close contact with, and provide them with information and guidance to stop the ongoing transmission/spread of COVID-19. The Contact Tracer will communicate with assigned contacts, obtain symptom information, refer contacts for testing, and provide instructions on quarantine.

Preferred education, experience, and/or skills include knowledge equivalent to that which normally would be acquired by completing a four-year college degree program in business; one to three years of related and progressively more responsible experience in database management or data collection; equivalent combination of education and experience.

Ideal candidates would possess an understanding of, and ability to explain COVID-19 symptoms, tests, prevention, and interventions; excellent organizational skills; excellent interpersonal, cultural sensitivity, and interviewing skills; basic skills of effective communication including active listening, empathy, cultural humility, and compassion, among other qualifications.

For more details on the responsibilities of these positions, visit careers.msu.edu. Internal applicants should access postings through the Careers @ MSU tile in the EBS Portal.

MSU Employee Special Discounts During COVID-19 Crisis

In these times of uncertainty, we want to make sure you are aware of the various discounts available to MSU benefits-eligible faculty and staff. MSU Benefits Plus has sought out new deals and discounts to help make life a little easier for you and your family as we deal with social distancing, sheltering in place, or working from home throughout the COVID-19 crisis. An At Home Resources category has recently been added to the MSU Benefits Plus website where you can find all offers currently available. From discounts on groceries and streaming services to saving you money on your mortgage payments, there is a wide range of special discounts for you to take advantage of as we work through this trying time.

Food

  • Shipt: Get groceries delivered to your home with Shipt. New users save $50 on memberships with the code  5ABFF1969DF
  • Door Dash: All new customers can enjoy free delivery on their first order from Door Dash.

Pets 

  • 1-800-PetMeds: Save up to $20 on health care items for your pet from America’s Largest Pet Pharmacy by using the code EZREFILL
  • BarkBox: Show your dog some love by ordering them a customized box of themed toys and treats. Get your first BarkBox for only $15 when you use their exclusive link. 

Financial 

  • Quicken Loans: Quicken Loans is dedicated to continue providing you with the best mortgage experience during these difficult times. Get $500 cash back when you buy or refinance with them, plus up to $1000 in closing credit. 
  • H&R Block: New and existing customers can save money on online tax prep with H&R Block through their exclusive link. 

Find all the discounts available on the MSU Benefits Plus website. For more information on discounts through MSU Benefits Plus, visit the HR website. If you have any questions about these discounts, please call MSU Benefits Plus at 888-758-7575.

Connected Through Crisis: Why an Interdependent Approach to Leadership is Vital

This is a guest post written by Jennie Yelvington, Program Manager for HR Organization and Professional Development.

We are part of a large, complex system and a network of teams has stepped up to address the multitude of issues that have arisen at this time. It is clear that no one unit or individual can solve these problems on their own. It’s not enough to just embrace that concept theoretically. We are called to share knowledge and build connection so that we can be as responsive as possible at this critical time. 

Here are action steps for you to consider:

1. Focus on Problem-Solving vs. Blame

When information changes at a rapid pace, mistakes will be made by you and others. That is our current reality even though we do our best. Be kind to yourself and others by moving quickly from the initial emotional reaction to a focus on problem-solving and the next steps. In many ways, we are learning as we go, and having a mindset that encourages learning from mistakes with less fear of failure can be helpful. Check out this upcoming elevateU Live Event on May 13 called The Get Better Mindset to learn more.

2. Maximize Strengths

As you go about assigning work at this time, think about who would most easily be able to carry out the work without having to dramatically expand their skillset. Everyone is dealing with a lot right now and efficiency will increase if we line up work in this way. When people do need to take on new tasks that have a learning curve, think about whether there are other colleagues who can help them get up to speed quickly and without judgment.

3. Reach Out to Colleagues

Connecting with colleagues across our networks is important for several reasons. First, it is a morale booster just to make that connection and share experiences. Beyond that, it may fuel new ideas, create opportunities to work together on projects and allow for sharing information regarding needed resources and the changing landscape.

4. Make Sure People Have What They Need

Gallup research late last month showed that only 52% of workers strongly agree that they feel well prepared to do their work. When you connect with your team and your boss, make sure you are sharing critical updates, reviewing material and equipment needs, connecting people with educational support like elevateU, and clarifying expectations in this unusual time. People may not just tell you if they don’t know how to do something. Make it safe for them to have the discussion. Equally important, don’t forget to check in on how they are holding up emotionally during this challenging time. Feelings such as grief and anxiety are common and empathy and compassion from a leader goes a long way.

5. Provide Context

Whether you are talking to your team, your leader, or other colleagues, it is helpful to share context. Starting a new project? Let others know why and what you are hoping to achieve. Assigning a new task? Be sure to share what problem you are trying to solve or need you are trying to fill. Asking your boss for resources? Let them know the impact you anticipate and how it will align with priorities. Sharing this information is likely to generate new ideas, prevent wasted time, and help people feel motivated to be involved.

6. Make Decisions without Certainty

In this rapidly changing time, we can’t stand still. Decisions need to be made without knowing exactly how the long game will play out and getting input from subject matter experts on your team and elsewhere can really help. Focus on doing the next right thing and be prepared to pivot as needed.

7. Deliberate Calm and Bounded Optimism

In the article Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges the authors highlight two important leadership characteristics. “Deliberate calm” refers to the ability to stay steady in a fraught situation and think strategically about how to navigate. It requires humility and being fully present. “Bounded optimism” refers to confidence combined with realism. Excessive confidence despite obvious difficulty results in a lack of credibility and being dismissive of people’s experience. Instead leaders should acknowledge the challenges while expressing confidence that we can find our way through together, and then listen when others offer ideas. Side note: in order to be able to do either of these, you need self-awareness and good self-care strategies. Taking care of yourself helps you to stay steadier and take better care of others. Consider utilizing the many emotional wellness resources available from the MSU EAP and Health4U.

This time calls on us to shift from being fiercely independent and siloed, to embracing interdependence and collaboration. With a shared appreciation for each other’s capabilities and experience, and an eye to how we can best help each other forward, we can meet the challenges before us today and into the future. Perhaps psychologist Erik Erikson said it best: “Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for all of us.”

The following books in elevateU may be helpful:

Sources:

D’Auria, G., & De Smet, A. (2020, March). Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/leadership-in-a-crisis-responding-to-the-coronavirus-outbreak-and-future-challenges

Harter, J. (2020, April 17). How Leaders Are Responding to COVID-19 Workplace Disruption. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/307622/leaders-responding-covid-workplace-disruption.aspx

Coronavirus: MSU Benefit Resources Round-Up

As the situation and details regarding the coronavirus and its impact continue to unfold and change, we want to make sure you’re aware of various benefit-related resources to help you and your family. Here’s a breakdown of what’s available:

Health Care Resources

  • Teladoc for Online Medical Care: employees and their dependents currently enrolled in an MSU health plan have 24/7 access to a health care professional via web, phone or mobile app. Teladoc is an ideal tool if you’d like to have a doctor evaluate and treat symptoms while minimizing in-person contact. Teladoc doctors are equipped to answer questions about the coronavirus, evaluate your risk, and advise on next steps. MSU employees most commonly get help with cold/flu, bronchitis, allergies, pink eye, dermatology and more. Employees and their dependents who are over the age of 18 can also receive medical care for behavioral health (depression, anxiety, etc.). Learn more about Teladoc and how to sign up.
  • Prescription Refills and Delivery to Your Home: MSU’s prescription drug plan is administered through CVS Caremark, and MSU Pharmacy on campus is a CVS-preferred pharmacy. To help you and your family during this time, CVS Pharmacy and MSU Pharmacy are offering free prescription delivery to your home. Additionally, MSU Pharmacy offers a 90-supply on prescriptions and CVS Pharmacy is waiving early refill limits on 30-day prescriptions for maintenance medications at any in-network pharmacy. Learn more about prescription resources.
  • Livongo for Free, Unlimited Diabetes Supplies Delivered to Your Home: Livongo is a diabetes management program completely free to MSU employees, their spouse and dependents. After you sign up, you will be shipped the Livongo Welcome Kit that includes the Livongo meter and all the supplies you need to check your blood glucose. This is an ideal tool to help you receive necessary medical supplies for free without leaving your home. Learn more about Livongo and how to sign up.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) Care Resources: BCBSM is offering different ways to see a health care professional from the comfort of your home, so you can keep yourself and others safe. Their 24-Hour Nurse Line allows you to speak to a registered nurse if you have questions about the coronavirus or would like free health care advice. Blue Cross Online Visits allows you to have a face-to-face, virtual visit with a doctor 24/7. Options available are based on the MSU health plan you’re enrolled in – find out more here.
  • Employee Assistance Program and MSU Health4U for Counseling: The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a confidential counseling service provided at no cost to MSU staff, faculty, retirees, graduate student employees, and their families. The EAP and MSU Health4U are now offering counseling services by either video conferencing or phone. Learn more about counseling services.
  • Food and Nutrition Appointment with MSU Health4U: MSU Health4U is now exclusively offering telehealth video conferencing appointments for their food and nutrition services. Learn more about scheduling a food and nutrition appointment.
  • Tips for Taking Care of Yourself in Times of Uncertainty: the WorkLife Office understands the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus is likely causing stress about the unknown and how best to move forward. Consider these WorkLife Office self-care tips.

Child and Elder Care Resources

Remote Work Resources

  • MSU Guide to Remote Access: visit remote.msu.edu/working website for the most up-to-date information and resources related to remote work options. Find more details about collaboration tools, connecting remotely, FAQs and more.
  • Work-Related Frequently Asked Questions: these FAQs on the HR website will continue to be supplemented and modified as the situation develops.
  • WorkLife Office Tips for Remote Work: the WorkLife Office is working hard to support you during this time by developing a variety of remote-work resources, including blog posts, webinars, and feedback surveys to assist employees. Learn more on the WorkLife Office website.

Professional Development Resources

  • Use elevateU for professional development: while in-person classes through Organization and Professional Development are currently unavailable, elevateU offers free online resources to MSU employees to help you continue your professional development. Find books, videos, courses and more that cover a variety of topics including leadership, change management, communication skills, project management and more. Learn more about elevateU and how to access it.

Find the most up-to-date information about MSU’s response to the coronavirus at msu.edu/coronavirus. Additionally, MSU employees should check the remote.msu.edu/working website for the most up-to-date information and resources for remote work options.